27 Jun Spotlight on the EYP Finland
The EYP network is active in 40 countries across Europe. This is possible thanks to young volunteers who dedicate their free time to developing the organisation. We asked Matti and Ida from EYP Finland how is it like to run a peer-to-peer educational NGO in their country.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Do you remember how you got involved in EYP?
Matti: I am Matti, 22 years old, and currently residing in Finland. Since January of this year, I have been involved in EYP Finland in the role of President of the National Committee. I have started EYP… in Italy in 2015 during my high school exchange year. I remember hearing about the organisation from my English teacher and as an exchange student, I was more than ready to try out new activities! I was particularly drawn in by the international focus of EYP and I got to experience that during my first EYP session in Volterra, Italy in 2016. Still, to this day, I am very grateful to my English teacher Susanna as well as my first Chairperson, Hans, who happened to be Finnish and helped me connect with EYP Finland.
Ida: My name is Ida, and I am 20 years old. I am about to start studying politics, philosophy and economics in Goldsmiths, University of London. I first heard of EYP in 2015 when some members were having a presentation at my school about regional sessions in Finland. It sounded fascinating since I was interested in politics, internationality and travelling. However, I did not realise that it is mainly just first-time delegates in regional sessions and thought I am not smart and “professional” enough to go there. The following year a friend of mine said she is thinking of participating with another friend and I thought it is a good chance for me to join this organisation when I do not have to do it alone. It also seemed like a good opportunity to do something related to my passion, which is politics without having to be involved in a political party. I did not necessarily fall in love with EYP at my first event, but I was curious to see more, and here I am still active!
What is your role in National Committee and what do you like most about it?
Matti: In my role as the President I get to be part of various projects of the NC and work with stakeholders both within and outside the NC. In fact, almost every day as a volunteer is different and that is an aspect I like the most. I consider other people being the most important resource for the NC President; managing, supporting and empowering them is extremely insightful and will certainly be a valuable experience in the future. This role also supports my university studies in Business Administration in providing a unique opportunity to apply management and intercultural communication theories in practice. Thus, I truly believe EYP will help me become a leader of tomorrow.
Ida: I am the Vice President for International and Academic Affairs. Something I enjoy a lot is selecting people for our events and communicating with them about the events and planning them. That is because when someone has a compelling vision for an event, I get excited about it myself too and want to make top quality! Generally, as a board member, I enjoy creating new ideas, developing the National Committee and wondering what we could do better. It is rewarding to see how things improve.
Is there a unique perspective you bring to your National Committee that you would like to share?
Matti: How EYP Finland is special is multidimensional. Although majority of the work is volunteer-based, having two paid employees a year is not common, considering the EYP network. A significant portion of the daily administrative work can be transferred from volunteers to create a more rewarding and motivating environment for them. However, comparing EYP Finland to other organisations within the youth NGO sector in Finland, it is rare for an organisation of this size to be so heavily run by volunteers. In particular, the Head Organisers of our sessions do an incredible job at managing events, being involved in the process for ten or even twelve months each year!
Ida: I have a chronic disease, and sometimes it affects my life, and sometimes it does not. But I want to still be active in as many interesting activities and organisations as possible. And I want to show other people that even though of course you should take your health issues seriously, but it should not hinder you from doing something. If you, for example, travel somewhere for EYP you can make sure that you have your European Health Insurance card, the organisers know about your illness, you take your snacks if you have food restrictions and maybe take it a bit more easily knowing your limits but still enjoy. The same thing I can say for mental health. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety order during the time I was already a board member of EYP Finland. And I have had some bad times, but at the same time, EYP has been one of those things that helped me go forward. I think you should always try to do things you enjoy the most, even if your health would not be the best since it can give you a lot of strength in the end.
What is special (or just out of the ordinary) about your National Committee?
Matti: I consider EYP being successful in bringing EU and Europe related topics closer to youth. Many young people may think European issues do not concern them or realise their impact on the national level but EYP does important work in changing that. EYP also brings together youth from diverse backgrounds, living in different areas within the country with different political views to discuss and share experiences in harmony, which is inspiring. Particularly challenging in bilingual Finland, we have managed to integrate youth from the Swedish-speaking minority to our activities, further promoting the core value of inclusion.
Ida: Something special about EYP Finland is that we are closely in touch with schools and quite many schools in fact. We try to contact every upper secondary school in Finland before our regional sessions. We do not want the participation to depend on whether you know someone who has done EYP or not. And then we always try to find someone who can go to the school to give a presentation about EYP if they ask for one and those are always our active volunteers who do it. Another thing we do in schools is European Parliament simulations sponsored by the Parliament office in Helsinki. Any teacher in Finland can contact us about it, and we try to do around 50 of them per the 1,5 semesters we are doing it. We teach people usually between the ages of 12 and 18 about the EU and let them discuss current EU topics. We are also starting to do a Europe game in schools, so we two different school projects that teach young people about the EU. And for both, we pay our active volunteers for each visit. Being a school ambassador is an easy way to be involved in what we do without having to travel abroad all the time. By having projects at schools, we reach a wide audience. And not only those youngsters that are already interested in the EU and politics but also those who know nothing about this topic. Having young people to teach them about the EU can even help in increasing voter turnout in future European elections when people know about the EU from an early age.
Tell us about one activity of your National Committee that you are most proud of.
Matti: Since 2014, EYP Finland has been organising parliamentary simulations across Finland, with young volunteers guiding a brief lecture and simulation about current EU topics. Although the project has gone through many iterations, names, and funding sources, it has been an integral part of our efforts to reach junior high schools, high schools, and to offer Europe related knowledge to several thousands of students during its timespan. As one activity, it is perhaps the one I am most proud of, as it resonates well with the mission of the EYP while incentivising the young volunteers involved.
Ida: Right now, I am very excited about some upcoming events, so it is too hard to say a past event that I am proud of. Currently, I am looking forward to our Leadership Training coming up in December. We were originally supposed to have it last year but good that we postponed it for this year since we just scored Erasmus+ funding for it. We have not gotten Erasmus+ funding in a couple of years since we have not had new concepts, but now we got it since the leadership training is a new concept. We are very excited that we received this funding after a long break and can make a high-quality event with it. The idea behind it is that there are many training events in EYP on how to be a chairperson or how to be a journalist but not really on the next steps. For some people, it can seem difficult to make the transition to become an editor or a president, for example. And at sessions, those are the people who usually give the training but do not receive any. So, we want to have training for people that have been in EYP for a couple of years maybe and want to take the next step but learn more about it first. We will have super experienced EYPers as trainers, and we also bring our events to a new area Lapland. So, at the same time, it is also part of establishing activities in Lapland since we have not had events North of Oulu and we will probably continue doing other events there next year.
What impact do you think EYP initiatives hold on the young people and your community?
Matti: I consider EYP being successful in bringing Europe related topics closer to youth. Many young people may thing European issues do not concern them or realise their impact on the national level but EYP does important work in changing that. EYP also brings together youth from diverse backgrounds, living in different areas within the country with different political views to discuss and share experiences in harmony, which is inspiring. Particularly challenging in bilingual Finland, we have managed to integrate youth from the Swedish-speaking minority to our activities, further promoting the core value of inclusion.
Ida: I think EYP is a place where many young people get their first idea of what it is like to be international. I have already had a couple of international projects in school before starting EYP, but not many people have the chance of having an Erasmus+ project at their school, for example. When you go to a regional EYP session as a delegate, most participants are from your own country, but there is a team of international officials, and everyone is speaking English. So that can be very new to some people, and they might have been too shy to say much anything in English before that. When you continue in EYP, the world becomes smaller, you see your International friends in different locations, travelling alone becomes easier, and Europe starts feeling more like a country than a continent. Some of the relationships you create in EYP can even be useful in your future career since you never know where those people will be in a couple of years. And most importantly, I am quite sure that most EYPers knew more about the EU than ever after having attended a couple of EYP events.
What challenges and/or potentials do you foresee for EYP IS in the future?
Matti: As the EYP community keeps increasing, so does the quality of the events and consequently the expectations from the volunteers. This may be a challenge especially for the International Sessions, the flagship events of the organisation, as volunteers may be challenged to outperform the previous event and to keep aiming for ever higher goals. However, this is not restricted to only large-scale events but all our activities; therefore, it is important to first ensure our core activities are managed well and anything above that is a nice bonus. And if that extra does not work out, it is not the end of the world; it is important that you tried, took a chance, and learned something in the process. This, I feel, is also one of the core principles of EYP that I aim to follow.
Ida: The biggest challenge for NCs in taking such a big responsibility is money. I know from experience that as an organisation, it can be hard to receive money from the same grant several years in a row and there might not be that many larger grants you can apply for. Also, after you have organised it, it often requires having a low budget for a long time after the event. It might also be difficult to find suitable accommodation or venues. Some schools or universities might have space only in the summers, and it might be difficult to find accommodation for 300 people in countries that are not that touristy and barely have any hostels, for example. And for parties, it can be hard to arrange to have underaged and over 18 people at the same venue and things like that. Also finding people for the leadership can be difficult since only a small percentage of EYPers continue so far that they are qualified to be in the leadership of an international session, and they might be so busy with university or work that they do not have time for such a big commitment.
The EYP Spotlight series collects the stories of young people from different backgrounds who run the European Youth Parliament in their countries. Would you like to share your story with us? Get in touch with communications[at]eyp.org, #EYPNCSpotlight.